Artificial intelligence at the heart of the refinery of the future

Artificial Intelligence And ‘Big Data’ At The Heart Of The Refinery Of The Future. Digitization and technology for low-emission production set the path for a sector in full reinvention. Spain’s first digitally native industrial complex will come into being in just two years.

The energy sector is undergoing an unprecedented industrial revolution, with deferred effects in the medium and long term. At least until 2050, oil and gas will maintain a 71% leadership share as sources of energy supply, according to the latest estimates of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), but the energy transition towards a decarbonized economy, which meets the commitments of the United Nations 2030 Agenda, is already a reality. “The time has come to reinvent ourselves for a decarbonized, digitized, and demand-driven future. And it has to be now,” states the report Fueling The Energy Future, prepared by Accenture.

The transformation plan for this industry involves “developing low-carbon liquid fuels,” according to Fuels Europe. This European association, which brings together the major players in the production of fuels, set out the roadmap for its industrial transformation in 2020. According to its Clean Fuels for All report, “An investment of between 30 and 40 billion euros will be required over the next 10 years”.

The figures are conclusive. But where do the numbers lead and what are the keys to this radical transformation to a low-emissions industry? Accenture experts list three milestones. The first: the adoption of next-generation digital technologies. According to the international consulting firm, this measure must be complemented by two other strategies: the training of a workforce adapted to the reality of the future and the satisfaction of investors.

Employees will no longer make decisions based on past experience but will be supported by a team with digital technology that helps them to make better decisions.

Europe’s benchmark companies are getting down to work to meet the challenge. In Spain, Repsol wants to “propose the factory of the future”. The aim is to create industrial complexes “capable of breaking down technological barriers and fostering a new culture of dialogue between people and machines”.

New technologies “are essential for the energy industry to take advantage of ecosystem benefits while making data-driven decisions quickly and at scale,” the Accenture report stresses. And in this regard, it notes of particular importance “distributed log technology (DLT)/ blockchain, artificial intelligence, extended reality, and quantum computing.” All of this body of knowledge is known as DARQ technologies, essential players in the future of the sector. And although each of them is very powerful in itself, it is together that they can change the functioning of the energy industry.

Pioneering project in Bilbao

Many of these technologies will come together in the plant that Repsol plans to open in Bilbao in 2023. It will be the company’s first “digitally native” industrial plant. It will combine renewable hydrogen – 100% clean energy – with CO as a raw material. Simultaneously, the Spanish company will transform its existing industrial complexes (A Coruña, Puertollano, Cartagena, Tarragona, Bilbao) into multi-energy hubs generating fuels with low, zero, or negative carbon footprint.

The future industrial complex in Bilbao will have a digital twin to facilitate its maintenance. According to the consulting firm Juniper Research, the energy sector is the second sector with the second-largest projected investment in 2021 for the deployment of digital twins. It will play a leading role in the immediate future. In Bilbao, the digital twin will initially be key to the conceptualization of the plant and, subsequently, it will allow capturing information from it in real-time and storing it by taking direct data from physical devices. Together with the application of machine learning or advanced analytics, the digital twin will make it possible to predict and simulate situations for decision-making as if it were a real case. It’s time for artificial intelligence. “The employee will no longer make decisions based on past experience, but will be supported by a team with digital technology that helps them make a better decision.”

Virtual reality and augmented reality will also contribute to improving efficiency and safety in the industrial complex, which will have a massive deployment of sensors thanks to 5G and the industrial internet of things. Robotics, finally, “will make it easier to automate repetitive tasks or tasks with risky components and will allow us to focus on tasks with greater added value”.

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